The Joy Formidable – ‘Wolf’s Law’

A none-too-subtle second album from the Welsh trio that’s destined to soundtrack riots and erupting volcanoes

Fittingly adorned with an oil-painting artwork of flowers growing from the corpse of a wolf (beauty from savagery – geddit?), Welsh trio The Joy Formidable’s second album ‘Wolf’s Law’ takes their 2011 debut’s brutal pop maelstroms and adds to it orchestras, death metal riffs and acres of billowing Muse bombast that seem purpose-built to soundtrack HD footage of volcanoes erupting or rioters lobbing firebombs onto police van windscreens. Inevitably for a band built on pomp-rock power, their idea of ‘progression’ means turning everything up to 11.

‘Wolf’s Law’ is the biological theory that bones strengthen to bear the weight that’s placed on them, and the emotional metaphor runs strong through the album. Growing up enough to cope with love’s harshest realities is a common theme through ‘Forest Serenade’, ‘Tendons’ and string-swamped opener ‘This Ladder Is Ours’, in which a long-standing couple are reminded of the boundless joys of the start of their relationship when they (apparently) bond over a nostalgic ladder. Melodically, though, these tracks have to be seriously sturdy to bear the avalanches of guitar sludge trucked in to bury them. Ritzy Bryan’s light yet powerful vocals often act as a rescue crane to tunes drowning in Rhydian Daffyd’s bass barrages, but tracks as heavy as ‘Bats’ and ‘Maw Maw Song’ tend to slip away into the metal Garbage swamp. For the most part, however, Ritzy’s melodicism guides the songs through the sonic storm, ruling over urgent rock blazes like ‘Little Blimp’, the magnificent fury of ‘The Leopard And The Lung’ and the sinister nursery-rhyme rock of first single ‘Cholla’ (“Your hands turn to daggers again”), which could be QOTSA chundering through ‘Oranges And Lemons’. And having been recorded while snowed into a log cabin deep in the wilderness of Maine, New England, there are moments of serene quietude to ‘Wolf’s Law’. ‘The Hurdle’ builds from a folkish stomp and honeycomb coo, ‘Silent Treatment’ is the languid acoustic paean of a maltreated wife and ‘The Turnaround’ is a stately ballroom ballad in the vein of Anna Calvi, bringing some much-needed subtlety and classicism to the album like a wine-tasting break at a Viking massacre.

Even the cataclysmic title track lures us in with a piano introduction full of desolate romance before unleashing the hounds of Wagnerian hell, but the prime intention of ‘Wolf’s Law’ is to overwhelm with bluster, muscle and noise, to orchestrate us clean out of our boots. Which makes for a great record to listen to while teetering on the edge of a cliff in a thunderstorm, but on an iPhone on public transport it can feel a touch over-egged.
Mark Beaumont